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Kent's county lines success as gangs drop from 80 to 37

The number of county lines gangs in Kent has more than halved in the past six years, from a one time high of 80.

In March 2020, Kent set up a dedicated county lines and gangs team which now has four DSs, two DIs and around 40 DCs and PCs. Kent’s team sits under the crime command and is not owned by divisional policing.

Across the past six years, the number of gangs operating in the county has declined, with a one time high of 80, now dropping to 37. 

The force is continuing to trial new initiatives to tackle county lines, with an embedded officer going into the Met’s Op Orochi this week (County lines Operational Command Unit funded by the Home Office), and they are looking at trialling new intervention officers whose role would be to refer users to the necessary support services.

DCI Matt Talboys heads up Kent’s county lines and gangs team.  

“[The team] gives us an opportunity to do the investigative work with our detectives, and then when we need to respond to things to do some groundwork, from a county lines perspective- stopping users, using them to execute warrants etc,” he told Police Oracle.

“We are able to identify arrest, charge and convict people without ever finding any drugs or any or any money [through communication data work].”

He also said the team have changed their tactics to target those who sit above the line holders.

“If you think of county lines being a core in the middle, we look at either side of it,” he said.

“The line holders sit quite high in terms of the criminality level of it, high up in the organised criminal group.

“What we find is we take out the line holder and there’s somebody sat above that line holder who wants to continue that stream of money, they will then try and establish a new line very quickly.

“What we do now is to work upstream - looking to identify those that are controlling the line holders and taking them out.”

The force tries to adopt a two way approach however, looking at where the demand comes from as well as the supply.

“If you've got a market for something-  you're going to try and fill that market and give [individuals] the opportunity to use. At the back end of the activity we do, we can give people the opportunity to refer to different agencies, different services,” DCI Talboys said.  

He explained the force are currently exploring the idea of intervention officers who would work in close partnerships with communities, child exploitation teams and local authorities.

“Our intervention officers would go and speak to individuals highlighted by our activity and try and do this ‘one-degree’ turn. The idea is you take an individual, you turn them one degree away from criminality or away from being vulnerable – we do that to try and stop the market from being there,” he said.

“We couple that with working closely with our local policing team to understand what the issue is, and we do use the pester tactic which is about broadcasting to user groups a message saying, 'Actually, we know the county line and actually what help do you need and then refer them into appropriate services'.”

DCI Talboys said that 99 per cent of Kent’s county lines emanate from London. He described strong relationships with contacts in two or three areas of London, BTP, as well as the benefits of the shared Athena IT system (nine forces) allowing for the easy sharing of data. With the Met, they rely on the contacts to overcome where different computer systems make information sharing difficult.

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